Tuesday, November 1, 2022

White Dwarf: Issue #56

Issue #56 of White Dwarf (August 1984) features a cover by Chris Achilleos, who's probably most well-known for his contributions to Heavy Metal magazine. This particular illustration doesn't do much for me personally, but it's very much in keeping with the brash tone of the magazine during this time. In his editorial, Ian Livingstone sees a possible silver lining in the troubles of US game companies like TSR, namely, the emergence of "a thriving British RPG industry." Games Workshop certainly benefited from the decline of TSR in the mid-1980s; whether any other UK companies did so is an interesting question.

Speaking of the mid-1980s, what could be more appropriate than an article about ninjas? "Night's Dark Agents" by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards is fairly typical of this surprisingly resilient genre of article. Rather than focus on how to include ninjas into any specific RPG, the authors instead talk about the reputed training, skills, weapons, and attire of ninjas in history and legend. It's fairly well done for what it is, but it's hardly groundbreaking in an era when nearly every gaming periodical published multiple periodicals of this sort.

"Open Box" reviews Games Workshop's "Battlebikes," giving it 7 out of 10. This game piqued my imagination at the time, but I never saw it in stores, let alone owned it. Also reviewed is "Turbofire" from Auto Ventures, a product and a company of which I've never heard. The product, which is given 8 out of 10, is apparently a multi-system adventure/campaign scenario designed for use with Car Wars, Battlecars, and Highway 2000 – how strange! Hârn, Cities of Hârn, and three installments of the Encyclopedia Hârnica are all reviewed together, collectively scoring 8 out of 10. The reviewer (Simon Farrell) speaks well of all the products; his main critique seems to be that, because they are presented in a system-neutral fashion, the referee will have to do a lot of work creating game stats for NPCs, monsters, etc. Finally, there's a review of Mayfair's The Forever War game, which garners a 7 out of 10.

For a change, Dave Langford's "Critical Mass" includes discussions of books I've actually read, like Donald Kingsbury's Geta (released in the USA under the title Courtship Rite, which is how I know it). It's a strange work of imaginary socio-anthropology about a colony of humans who survive on a hostile planet where only a handful of Earth plants can grow and whose diet must be supplemented by cannibalism. The book is better than it sounds! Langford also reviews Jack Vance's Lyonesse, which he likes less than The Dying Earth and its sequels, an opinion I share. Later in the column, Langford offers his opinions on the best, worst, most pretentious, and most sexist SF authors.

It's an idiosyncratic list to be sure.

Since we're on the subject of bad writers, the next article is devoted to translating the fantasy novels of David Eddings into Dungeons & Dragons. Predictably entitled "The Belgariad," the article by Peter Ransome is thankfully short. Much more worthy of one's time is "The Last Log," a science fiction Call of Cthulhu adventure by Jon Sutherland, Steve Williams, and Tim Hall. Set in the early 23rd century, the scenario involves checking in with a corporate mining planet whose colonists haven't delivered any reports in over seven months. Naturally, something eldritch is afoot and it's up to the player characters to deal with it. I liked this adventure so much that I used a version of it in my college Traveller: 2300 with great success. Even now, I consider it one of the most original things ever published in the pages of White Dwarf.

"Mortal Combat" by Dave Morris is a collection of rules alterations and additions to the RuneQuest combat system. While I have no doubt that articles of this sort were of great interest to RQ fans, it was precisely this obsession with adding complexity to an already complex combat system that has long prevented my wholly embracing the game, which is a pity. Part 1 of "The Sunfire's Hart" by P.G. Emery is an excellent kick-off to an extended AD&D scenario for low-level characters. The initial premise is that the PCs are hired by the Guild of Sages to travel by boat a series of volcanic islands to find out why contact was lost with the last group to travel there – a common theme in many RPG scenarios, it would seem! The islands were once ruled by the defunct Solarian Empire, which maintained power through the use of an artifact called the Sunfire's Heart. The scenario involves not only discovering what happened to other inhabitants of the island but also the secret history of the Solarian Empire. It's far from a perfect adventure, particularly in terms of its presentation, but I am a sucker for adventures where ancient history plays a role.

"Plying the Spacelanes" by Paul Vernon is an alternate take on random starship encounters in Traveller. Vernon does a good job, I think, of expanding on and rationalizing the original tables without complicating them unnecessarily. The next time I referee a Traveller campaign, I might well make use of these. "To Boldly Go" by Joe Dever and Gary Chalk takes a look at sci-fi miniatures, including those produced by Grenadier for Traveller. "High Planes Drifters" is a collection of four D&D monsters from the planes beyond the Prime Material. As you'd expect, they're a mixed bag, with none of them really standing out as must-use additions to the game.

"Don't Touch That Dial!" by Phil Hine is an odd little article, in that it's ostensibly about the introduction of high technology into a D&D but is in reality simply about the introduction of two specific types of high technology: gunpowder and mechanical flight via ornithopters. The former is a perennial topic of interest to fantasy gamers, while the latter seems to stem largely from Moorcock's Runestaff series and Herbert's Dune. It's a mostly forgettable article, much like "The Psytron!" by Carol Hutchins, which reviews a 48K Spectrum game of the same name. I say that not because the game in question is a bad one – the reviewer gives it 9 out of 10 – but because it doesn't seem to have been a particularly successful or influential product. I'd much rather read the latest installments of "Thrud the Barbarian," "The Travellers," and "Gobbledigook," all of which I enjoyed more.

White Dwarf continues to trudge along solidly. At this point in its run, most issues were decent enough to hold my attention without much complaint and would often include one or two articles that I still remember even now. This is one of those issues, largely because of "The Last Log," which is a genuinely clever take on Call of Cthulhu. I look forward to seeing more like it in the issues to come.


  1. The early Harn products being system neutral never bothered me. I saw the setting as appealing partially because it seemed to draw heavily from early feudal histories and Tolkien and the excellent take on religion. I gravitated to the setting relying on familiar rules including AD&D and Runequest - both worked well enough in my opinion.
    Harn is not a setting I see much about on this blog. I would be interested to know what you think about it.

    1. I haven't written much about Hârn largely because my direct experience of it is limited. I owned a few products and admired them, but I didn't make much use of them, unfortunately.

    2. I used Harn for a Cold Iron campaign, but eventually concluded that Cold Iron was too high magic for Harn.

    3. Harn system was the perfect ruleset for our group. the setting is remarkably detailed. the nomenclatures were not to our liking however.

  2. The set of miniatures in the presentation of The Last Log is great - probably one of the best presented scenarios that WD ever managed. I've never played it but I always wanted to (still do). The date of 1984 fits in between the release of Alien and Aliens and when I read the article (87 I think) it spoke to my interest in that kind of blue collar sci-fi.

    The Sunfire Heart was a nice scenario, again good presentation in the maps, but was not really the sort that my group played. I don't think I've ever read part 2.

    Of the monsters in "High plane drofters" wasn't one of them a cheeky wee ice mephit? One of my favourite monsters and the image was great too.

    1. Yes, the ice mephit was indeed one of the four monsters.

  3. the subject on the cover art is carrying a cool schiavona. probably the first time ive ever seen that style of sword in any fantasy art.

  4. The sunfire's heart adventure and the (admittedly scant) details of the wider world around it, has recently provided my group with a step into what has become a two year campaign with no sign of slowing down in sight. We use the castles and crusades ruleset and not only is it an adventure I wanted to run for years, i refer to it as my "keep on the Borderlands" :) it is an adventure I would be happy to run through again with other groups of players